Sherni Review (SPOILERS): 10 Steps Backward 1 Step Forward, Goverment Good, Industry Bad

Good movie, well-made movie, depressing movie about the impossibility of holding on to anything good in today’s destructive change obsessed world. Also, Vidya looking good without make up.

Whole Plot:

Vidya is the new Forest Officer for a jungle area. Her team is trained and smart and well-funded, they have resources to help them, experts from within and without the government like local college professor Vijay Raaz who is also trained in DNA collection. When a Tiger in their protected territory starts attacking humans, they quickly develop a plan to tranquilize it and move it to the national preserve where it will not be so close to humans. The village within the jungle agrees, the headwoman understands that balance must be maintained and tells her people to stay out of the jungle for now. The problem is, politics. The local politician makes it a political issue that he will save the people and kill the tiger. The other side makes it a political issue that they will save the tiger. As pressure turns up, Vidya’s superior in the forest department, Neeraj Kabi, is brought in to oversee. And promptly agrees to hire an outside consultant, a hunter Sharat Saxena. He finds the tiger and kills her, then orders the forest ranger with him to shoot her with a tranqualizer to make it appear she shook off the drugs and was attacking and he had to shoot to kill. Vidya is heartbroken and calls Neeraj a coward. Shortly before she is about to resign, the village headwoman comes to her to show her the tiger cubs the children found, which gives Vidya hope enough to stay in the department. In the end, Vidya is transferred to the national museum to protect dull dead animals in cases.

Sherni Trailer out: Vidya Balan is force to reckon with in world of  man-animal conflict | Bollywood News – India TV

There are three turning points in this movie. The first is when Vidya decides to trust Neeraj instead of going over his head. The second is when she insults him in public and calls him a coward. What makes this an interesting movie is the third moment, when Vidya tears up her resignation letter and decides to stay on.

Ultimately, this film is a love letter to career government employees and the people they serve. Vidya and her team are not corrupt or even incompetent. They care about what they do. And the people they are serving, the locals living on the edge of the jungle, need them to do their jobs. It’s not about “protecting the tigers”, it’s about protecting the whole ecosystem including the people who live within it. The problem is with everyone else who gets in the way.

Vidya is no superwoman. She isn’t that interested in her job, ready to quit right at the start just because it’s not that challenging. Thanks to the Indian government structure, we understand she must be extremely intelligent to have an administrative post, and that this is a powerful position. But she just doesn’t like it much, it’s not her passion. The thing is though, she was trained and prepared and is ready to work. She knows her job. It doesn’t have to be her “passion”, it just has to be the job she knows how to do.

There’s a careful dance through out, the career employees, the specialists who know their jobs, versus their supervisors and (even worse) the local politicians. Vidya’s supervisor Brijendra Kala is trapped in the middle, trying to follow the regulations and please the politicians, while the experts he supervises criticize his decisions. Vidya is a career worker, and she is used to this dance, and she knows her role in the dance is ultimate loyalty to her “team”, the fellow career employees. So she trusts Neeraj Kabi, she isn’t going to go outside her own group to criticize.

Sherni' Actor Brijendra Kala Waited For 18 Years To Get Recognition & It's  Every Bit Inspiring
Look at his face, this actor is destined to always play a cowardly little worm and do it well

Vijay Raaz is an outsider, a local academic who volunteers with the forest department. At the first meeting where he is introduced to Vidya, she is suspicious of him, this “outsider”. But as they continue the process of trying to find the tiger, she comes to trust him. He doesn’t have the same training or role she does, but he is there on the ground with her every day and they think the same way. And it is him, the Outsider, who suggests they write a report and send it to the top of the department, over the heads of all of Vidya’s fellow workers, revealing the corruption in the tiger hunt. And it is Vidya who, at the last minute, backs off.

That’s the first turning point. Vidya has come to see that Vijay and the village headwoman are her allies, think like her in this situation, are more focused on the greater good than political points and grandstanding. But she still isn’t ready to let go of her place on the “team”, on her blind trust in the people in her department.

The second turning point is when she calls Neeraj a coward, in public, after he has allowed the tiger to be killed. She is officially taking off her “team” uniform, she does not care any more, this is a wrong choice and all people who care about the greater good can see that. That last bit of faith and loyalty is gone.

And then the third turning point, when the village headwoman takes her to see the tiger cubs. Not just that, but Vidya learns the villagers had been looking for the cubs, and were posting guards to protect them. So maybe her department is corrupt, maybe the politicians are blind fools, they aren’t the people she is here to serve. She is her to serve the public, and the public needs her. Forget everyone else, just think of the people.

It’s an interesting statement on government work. Starting with the power tensions in an office controlling everything, moving to actually caring about your job and responsibilities, and finally reaching the point of caring only about the people you serve, not the ones you work with, or the public opinion. But what makes it really interesting is that, in the end, Vidya IS transferred, left to rot at the National Museum with a bunch of stuffed exhibits. Is that all she is? An old fashioned exhibit, a government employee who actually wants to serve the people instead of just following the rules? Should she have torn up her resignation letter? Or would it have been better to resign and find a different way?

Fire Devastates New Delhi's National Museum of Natural History | Smart News  | Smithsonian Magazine
Sheesh! And the whole museum actually burned down in 2016? There’s a statement!

That’s the super depressing part. In the middle of the film, after the team has been fully assembled and Vidya is supervising an all out hunt for the tiger, we start to see the Media get involved. They are “pro-tiger” or “Anti-tiger”. But no one is pro “not having an opinion and trusting in the qualified professionals”. This isn’t a movie about “incompetant government”. Vidya knows what she is doing, her team has plenty of resources, they are more than capable of handling this problem. But no one believes that. The trust in government is so low that even the folks who are pro-Tiger are just angry protesters and shouting talking heads, no one is asking Vidya to talk on TV, no one is listening to Vijay Raaz give a lecture on tigers, there is a total disconnect from the larger national narrative and the people actually doing the job. The decades long campaign to seed distrust in the public in all government offices has worked, they don’t trust anyone, the assumption is “I, a man on the street, could do this better”. So, why should Vidya keep working for a dying organization? Would it have been better to resign and go work for an NGO, be one of those talking heads on TV who people actually listen to?

It’s depressing, but it’s also part of the reason I am glad this movie exists. Movies are to blame for a large part in people’s universal distrust of government. I’m not saying the Indian government isn’t corrupt, or that large parts of the American government aren’t corrupt. But universally again and again it has been shown that Public institutions WORK BETTER than Private institutions. The only way for private industry to get that sweet sweet tax money is to convince the public that privatization makes sense. Privatize the schools, privatize the universities, privatize the forest department, privatize the post office, get those lazy incompetents off the payroll, you will see, it will allllllllllll be better when we take control. The facts don’t support them, so they have to create convincing fictions. This movie cuts across that. It says “look, the department actually knows what it is doing and is doing its job. Shut up, sit down, and trust them”. We need more of these films. We need more films about the brave COMPETANT government employees so that the public will trust them and give them money and let them do the jobs they are better trained to do than anyone else.

So, watch this movie to see Vidya be awesome, to see Vijay Raaz be good as usual, to see Neeraj Kabi be his weirdly sexy self. And to see a story of competent people well-trained for their jobs who are sabotaged by politicians and media buying into the “privatization” narrative. DON’T watch this movie if you are already hyper aware of and depressed by the “privatization” talk and you just can’t STAND to think any more about how our solid reliable institutions are being torn down for no reason. Oh, and how individuals and individual problems are blamed for systemic issues, over and over again the film makes clear the whole reason this tiger is an issue is that private industry has been encroaching on their land. Ditto, the poverty of the local villagers. We don’t need another loud talking hero on TV, we need someone brave enough to point out that big government can save us and industry needs to be reigned in for the greater good.


4 thoughts on “Sherni Review (SPOILERS): 10 Steps Backward 1 Step Forward, Goverment Good, Industry Bad

  1. I have lots of thoughts on this movie. I apologize in advance for the very long comment! So, I was always going to watch this movie, not just because of the obvious reason – Vidya, but also, because my grandfather was a forest officer in the position that Vidya/Brijendra Kala were in. My dad grew up in the jungles. My dad played with tiger and lion cubs whose mothers were killed by private poachers/hunters. I wanted to watch this movie because I grew up listening to stories about the jungle and I also wanted to see if this is something I should show him. I will not. The depressing part of the movie to me (and to him) will be that besides the emergence of social media, nothing has changed since the 1950s!!! Everything that happened in the movie are stories I have heard growing up. Private hunters/poachers are reckless people who are just looking for the kill for the glory and to make money. Also, they pose an enormous danger to the officers and the animals. My grandfather always said that the hunters were more dangerous than the animals and they were the reason he had to always travel with armed guards. The forest officers work hard to understand the nuances of the villages (topography, needs, etc) and work with the villagers to find the best solution. Politicians are corrupt and if you do your job, you will be transferred. My grandmother refused to even unpack many times because she was waiting for the transfer orders and this is one of the reasons my grandfather retired in his 50s.

    I did like that they showed many competent women in various positions in the movie. I also really appreciated Vidya’s conversation with her mother and mother-in-law about not wanting to have kids. I did not like the husband. He came around by the end but in the beginning he basically told her to stay put because she has a “cushy” non-fireable government job and who cares if there is no upward movement or she’s miserable, he isn’t happy with his job and he is fine staying in his current role, he isn’t looking to be the CEO and she should feel the same way. It also annoyed me when he kept telling her she is exactly how she was in college (i.e., wishful thinking) but loved it when Vidya stuck up for herself and said no, she isn’t.

    Overall, the movie was frustrating to watch. I felt about this movie the same way I felt about the book Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. Nothing is surprising, corruption in politics is so rampant and powerful that no matter how hard honest people try to work within the system, the corrupt politicians continue to win.

    This movie did spark an interesting conversation with my husband. He is a government employee and probably always will be and was at one point a volunteer police officer. He cares deeply about government employees working hard to keep the integrity of the department and working within the confines of the law and not abusing the power. So, when he watched the Singham movies he was really frustrated because the police officers and government employees went outside of the law to get justice. And I tried to explain to him that while that is utterly frustrating and I am not saying I agree with it, but there is rampant corruption in India, the legal process can be a lifetime or more, witnesses can be bought or threatened, and all this makes it very difficult for people to work within the system to achieve any results. Usually they are demoted, transferred, or their responsibilities are reallocated to someone who will fall in line. After watching this movie he said got my point. He still doesn’t agree with it, but he gets why people might dejected by the system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Government is so tricky, because it all relies on belief really. You see that in this film, the villagers believed in Vidya and that is how she was able to do her job and the system worked. To me, that’s part of why she stayed. Having an honest person interacting with the public makes the public that much more likely to have faith in the government. And if they have faith, the government workers can have a chance to live up to that faith. It’s not just about her accomplishing the goals of her job, it’s about her presenting a reliable government employee and maybe teaching people to trust the government again, teaching others by example to be good employees, etc. etc.

      Depressing but not super surprising to hear that the forest department was already in trouble decades ago. One thing this film just nodded at is that the whole “tiger” problem came up as a result of decades of bad land management decisions. Brijendra Kala had to plant trees because he was told to plant trees, which drove the villagers into the forest instead of the plain. The villagers were trapped economically because they were forced to do day labor for small wages from farmers growing cash crops instead of being able to survive on hunting and gathering. And the jungle itself was chopped up by allowing random developments to intrude. All of that came about through many small bad decisions over many years, not just overnight. And it can’t be undone overnight either.

      Have you watched Action Hero Biju? It’s a Malayalam film and just covers about a week in the live of a local head of station police officer (I don’t know the titles). It’s Singham but realistic. He doesn’t break the law, he just goes as far as he can with immediate justice since he knows the courts can take FOREVER. And it treats with equal importance a dog bite and a drug deal and a salary dispute, all the things a local cop might need to handle in a day.

      On Wed, Jun 30, 2021 at 2:02 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. I really enjoyed this movie…and yes it was very depressing because it was so real and honest. I don’t have the energy to think about or delve into the politics…..but I really want to appreciate the small details that made the movie sing….the casting of the bit roles was spot on…they didn’t even seem like actors…must have been real villagers…
    oooh and my favorite bit was when they perform the Havan and pray to the little plastic tiger (while vidya rolls her eyes)…it was perfection.


    • YES! There are all these scientists and trained people giving ACTUAL ANSWERS, but of course you have to do a Puja also.


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